Television * Pendleton Ward * A Wasteland of Delight * 2011
Here we go with the third season of a deeply strange, thoroughly wonderful series, and this is the point where the show fully comes into its own. I’m not sure if season three is the absolute best season, but if not that’s only because the show somehow manages to get progressively better. Starting pretty much right away, this season escalates all of the positive aspects of the show while simultaneously shedding the more blatant kid-show conventions that it previously managed to hang onto. All of the main characters and most of the minor ones are fleshed out to the point of feeling like actual people. Well, candy people anyway. The world itself, the most whimsical of nuclear apocalypses, continues to be given a history. Meanwhile, Adventure Time is proving to be a show without an overarching narrative. However, I would still argue against classifying the series as purely episodic. Obviously, most of the episodes are self-contained. However, the world is persistent. Things that happen have consequences that linger throughout the life of the series. As the show progresses, narrative arcs begin and end, and are not necessarily constrained to a particular season. For instance, The Lich, who is dealt with in the finale of season two, doesn’t make an appearance here. However, it’s still an important character who is missing but not forgotten. Meanwhile, the final episode introduces Flame Princess and the beginning of a new phase of Finn’s development (while simultaneously building F.P.’s character both within and outside of her relationship to Finn, but that comes later).
All that said, I think the best way to discuss the rest of the series is to eschew talking about a season like a cohesive whole. I still believe it’s the best way to break up the series for the purposes of discussion, but I think it might make more sense to talk about significant episodes rather than an overall appraisal of the season. Season three, as it happens, includes some of my very favorites, so that’s fun. Still, just because I don’t go out of my way to talk about most of the episodes of the season, doesn’t mean they’re not worthwhile. This season is quality almost all the way through, and features a wide variety of stories. Some are silly one-off adventures, like when Finn and Jake fight some ghost gladiators, or fend off adorable would-be conquerors. There are episodes that focus on ancillary characters, such as Lumpy Space Princess and Tree Trunks and an assassin cat. “Thank You” is an episode that is almost entirely absent of known characters, and is a story told mostly without dialogue; it’s a pretty vignette. A couple, like “Holly Jolly Secrets,” I don’t particularly love, but still contain significant character/world building moments. Okay, let’s see what we’ve got here.
“Memory of a Memory”
Marceline the Vampire Queen is 1000 years old, but is still essentially a moody teenager. So far in her character progression we’ve learned that she is not evil, suffers from social anxiety, has trouble making new friends without being a jerk about it, and can lay down a sick bassline. This episode features Finn and Jake being sent into Marceline’s memory by a mysterious wizard in order to retrieve a memory that can undo a sleep spell that she is currently suffering from. While in there, Finn and Jake get to relive and/or interact with younger versions of Marcy (including adorable child-Marceline performing impromptu surgery on her stuffed bear, Hambo). As it happens, the wizard is Marceline’s doofus ex-boyfriend who has gone through a lot of trouble to make her forget the break-up. Finn then uses his memory to inform Marcy of what happened, thus the title. Two things about this episode are significant. First, it begins to fill out the backstory of one of the principal characters, and it does so while asking as many questions as it answers. Like, what was the initial apocalyptic event, and how did people survive, and in what capacity? Little Kid Marceline is clearly not a vampire here, but she’s also half-demon, so how does that work? None of those questions have been answered yet, by the way, but the unknown quantity is a way to keep the sense of wonder alive. The other important thing to notice is the quality of animation in terms of style and subtlety. The former can be seen as Finn and Jake navigate Marcy’s memory in the use of high-contrast scenes (including the striking black and white sequence when Finn hones in on Marceline’s memory bubble). The latter features one of my favorite moments on the show. This is the classic “buff baby who can dance like a man,” song, which, while funny isn’t exactly what I enjoy so much. The moment of subtle genius is a moment after, when 13 year old Finn comes across a Marceline laughing at his baby self. Finn doesn’t say a word, he just glances at the bathroom door and silently shuts it before turning his attention to the task at hand. His expression is perfect. Goddammit I love this show.
This episode is notable for being a great, stand-alone piece of silliness. It’s an example of the adventure-a-week aspect of the show that later on appear as something of a relief when things get intense and/or weird(er). This time, Finn and Jake catch the Ice King being a donk and ground him for four weeks. I.K. retreats and plots his revenge. He hires someone to punch them and inadvertently hires a hitman. Hilarity ensues. Mostly I wanted to use this episode to highlight Adventure Time’s willingness to engage in rampant goofiness. It’s just sharply written and great.
Last season ended with Princess Bubblegum being possessed by The Lich and getting blown up. Her life is saved, of course, but she is then revealed to be 13 years old, the same age as Finn. This episode picks up that story thread and presents the moment of Finn’s romantic awakening. Here comes puberty! Really though, this aspect of Finn’s teenage awkwardness is handled honestly, which makes it all the more endearing. At first, everything is great, and young P.B. and Finn hit it off while learning what attraction is. Meanwhile, it turns out she’s too young to run her own kingdom. The Earl of Lemongrab shows up and proclaims the throne until Princess Bubblegum turns 18 again. Turns out he sucks (in really just the best way possible), so Finn and P.B. attempt to prank him until he leaves. This doesn’t work, so the Princess if forced to return to her true age to oust Lemongrab. Sadly for Finn, this means the Princess is again too old for him, which does nothing to ease his sad, teen heartache. This is the beginning of Finn’s lovesick period, and while he does succumb to 13 year old angst and emotional wallowing occasionally, for the most part he deals with his feelings pretty well. I mean, I don’t blame him for crushing on (the adult) Princess Bubblegum. Also, Lemongrab is insane and wonderful, and his appearance gives the show another dose of crazy. It can also be noted that the Candy Kingdom seems to have a complex system of treaties and by-laws that I would be interested in knowing more about. Probably not really though.
While I really enjoy this episode, there’s not a ton to talk about, really. We get a little insight into Finn’s massive crush on P.B. and his relationship with Jake. Wizard Battle seems to be an annual event where wizards get together and fight with the winner awarded a kiss by P.B. Ice King shows up to get some of that sugar, and Finn sneaks into the competition to stop his cheating. Once again, the highlights for me are the snappy dialogue and small details. Specifically, the Grand Master Wizard and his tiny kittens for no reason, and Princess Bubblegum’s zeppelin.
In which Finn and Jake attend a fancy masquerade party with Princess Bubblegum, LSP, and others. It is soon learned that a ghost has possessed one of the members and begins to systematically murder everyone in attendance. There’s a lot of screaming, and accusations, and dying. It’s… actually pretty dark. Anyway, it is revealed that the whole thing was a set-up for a prank that Finn was playing on Jake, except his brother found out and turned it around on him. This episode is noteworthy for its visual style, primarily, and also for being the one time Adventure Time managed to actually creep me out a little (towards the end, with the Green Lady). That’s pretty impressive for a brightly colored, mostly silly cartoon.
This is another Susan Strong episode, in which Finn attempts to bond with the closest thing to a human he knows about, which are the Hyoomans (fish people with animal hats, so you know). Turns out the Hyoomans are being harassed by a pack of evil pool floaties that have taken over their home. Susan appeals to Finn for help, and Jake reluctantly tags along. I bring this episode up because one, it looks great. It takes place underneath the surface of Ooo, and we can see the ruins of the old world. Beautopia, the home of the Hyoomans, is an old shopping mall that exists in underground ruin. One can occasionally forget that Adventure Time takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, but the series never does. The other reason is that the Susan Strong episodes show another aspect of Finn’s character, which is that of a deeply buried loneliness felt by being the only surviving member of his species. That’s a tension present in the show that doesn’t come up all that often, but when it does it manages to be pretty potent.
“The New Frontier”
Sometimes, Adventure Time gets a little metaphysical. Sometimes, such as the second half of season six, it gets a lot metaphysical. Never mind that, though, because this is the episode where this aspect of the series is really introduced. The episode begins with Jake’s dream, in which he dies. He wakes up startled, of course, but mostly because of the presence of the Cosmic Owl, which signifies that his dream is prophetic. The dream is a Croak Dream, and Jake is super pleased about it, much to Finn’s dismay. Jake talks about his Earth consciousness and whatever, but all Finn can think about is losing his friend. Shortly thereafter, Banana Man shows up, seemingly indicating that the Croak Dream is going to happen that day. Finn tries to dissuade Jake from giving in to destiny, but Jake isn’t having it. By the end, it turns out that Banana Man’s sudden appearance was not, in fact, Jake’s appointed death. However, that Croak Dream is still out there, a narrative thread that is resumed later. This episode is significant mostly because it challenges the viewer of the show to think about things like mortality and fate, all of which is a little heady for your average kid’s show. Lucky for us, this isn’t an average kid’s show. Or an average show. Here, at least, Adventure Time manages to avoid getting mired in its own weird philosophy, and focuses on the relationship between Finn and Jake. It’s clear that Jake is kind of a hippie when it comes to this metaphysical stuff while Finn is far more practical about the world around him. It’s an interesting conflict, and this episode highlights this. Also, Weird Al is the voice of Banana Man, so what else do you want?
There’s not a ton to say about this particular episode, in which Finn and Jake find themselves trapped in Marceline’s closet, other than it’s another example of Adventure Time focusing on small moments to grow characters. The episode is essentially learning about what people do when they’re alone, and how gross they are. Even girls. That said, my favorite detail in this episode is when Marceline calls Finn and Jake’s house and get an answering machine. It is suitably goofy, and she is clearly annoyed with their silliness. However, when it comes time to record her message she becomes shy and uncertain. It’s a brilliant moment depicting her social anxiety. As someone who deals with that, I can assure you that we hate talking on the phone, and hate leaving messages even more. It’s impressive how deftly this moment handles that aspect of Marceline’s character.
I told you there were a lot of quality episodes here. Anyway, I like this one mostly because it is one of the more visually beautiful episodes this season, and because Maria Bamford is so goddamn great, all of the time.
This is an episode all about family biz, and how parental relationships can be tough even when the parent in question has passed away. Finn was adopted, obviously, by sentient dogs. Jake is his adopted brother, and Jake’s parents had the raising of both of them (plus the other, absent brother, Jermaine). This episode revolves around a recording left by Dad which reveals a gift for Finn: a big, cool dungeon. The gift is a way to toughen up Finn, but since he doesn’t really need the extra boost, Dad’s taunting only discourages him. Whatever, though, because Jake talks him out of his funk and Finn walks away from the ordeal with the family demon-blood sword. Besides the emotional tension of the episode, this is another stylish, visually impressive affair. Seriously, the fruit-babes are creepy as shit and that scene where they start eating that hideous bone-apple is haunting.
This is the season finale, and the focus here is on Finn’s debilitating crush on Princess Bubblegum. He’s a mess here, a 13 year old kid at his absolute worst. On the one hand, teens are annoying when they get like this, but on the other, more important hand, this shows that Finn is not some kind of invincible teenage hero. He’s as susceptible to hormones and weakness as anyone else, and this absolutely makes him a sympathetic, believable protagonist. Anyway, Jake feels bad for him and goes out to try and find another girl for Finn to get distracted with. This strategy works, although it rather backfires when the girl in question is Flame Princess, the 13 heiress to the Flame Kingdom with an unstable temper and an evil alignment. Nevertheless, Finn ends the episode with his crush suddenly shifted to this new hot girl (pun!). While this episode serves as an introduction to Flame Princess and to the new story arc of Finn’s relationship with her, F.P. really isn’t a character yet. That comes later, and she’s great. So you’ve got that to look forward to in the next season.
“What Was Missing”
Okay, so this episode is not listed chronologically like the others. That’s because this is arguably my favorite episode in the entire series (top five, anyway). The set-up of the episode, where a Door Lord appears and steals people’s stuff and Finn and company chase him, is mere pretext for the significant character moments that occur. Once the Door Lord walls himself away, it turns out only a genuine band can open the door. Finn, Jake, Marceline, and Princess Bubblegum are then tasked with kicking out the jams in order to gain passage to the Door Lord’s sanctuary. Whatever, though, because what makes this episode great is the interplay between the four principal characters. Finn sets aside his aching crush on Princess Bubblegum and is able to have pure moments of friendship with her. We learn that P.B. and Marceline have a history, and that there are hurt feelings and resentment involved. We learn that Marceline is lonely, and is unsure how to have a friend. All of this is capped off by a song, and that brings up the musical aspect of the show. I don’t often talk about music, because I find it difficult to write about. Music is a visceral thing, more felt that understood, but suffice to say that it is an important ingredient to the Adventure Time recipe. This is never more apparent than this performance of “What Am I to You?” By this point in the series, these characters have grown to the point where I’m attached to all of them, and to see them in discord is legitimately distressing. This is a feeling I share with Finn, because he starts sing this song, and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t touch a brother’s heart. It’s really just a beautiful moment, made all the better by Finn’s dope rock pose at the end. Also, just when things start to get a little cheeseball, the show takes a cue from Futurama and snaps back to being silly at the end. Adventure Time can be carefree, heartfelt, silly, and genuine all at the same time, and this is what pushes the show past being good into the realm of being truly great.
“Enjoy your burrito, Jake.” – Cute King, referring to the Nerdist podcast, “Conquest of Cuteness”
“How will we splash around in the brains of our enemies?” – Cute King, “Conquest of Cuteness”
“It’s a dead goat, man. It’s guts are all over, it’s all chopped up and spread around… oh, no wait, it’s just a blanket.” – Jake, “Conquest of Cuteness”
“Hey, you want to bump baby lumps?” “Sick, no.” – Jake and Finn, “Morituri Te Salutamus”
“It’s a fat fat warrior beat. It calls me forth.” “Man, it’s probably just puberty calling.” – Finn and Jake, “Morituri Te Salutamus.”
“You’re a psycho jerk and you ruined my life!” “But… not all of it.” – Marcy and Ash, “Memory of a Memory”
“Check out this whacked out memory crack! It’s ba-nay-nays down here.” – Jake, “Memory of a Memory”
“I’m a buff baby that can dance like a man/I can shake-a my fanny I can shake-a my can. I’m a tough-tootin baby I can punch-a your buns/I can punch-a your buns/I can punch all your buns. If you’re an evil witch/I will punch you for fun.” – baby Finn, “Memory of a Memory”
“Yo Mar-Mar, what’s with the chump? Come on, I said no chumps. Ash gets hungies at 8 o’clock. You need to get back in the kitchen and make me dinner.” – Ash, who will regret being a donkus, “Memory of a Memory”
“What kind of meat is that?” “That’s Meat Man’s meat!” “Do you think it hurts Meat Man when he gives us his meat?” “I don’t know, I can’t read his mind.” – Finn and Jake, “Hitman”
“I had a dream about Meat Man. I think I’m going to stop eating Meat Man.” – Jake, “Hitman”
“Look, a supermodel. Look, a hoverboard. Look, the Apocalypse! Someone got hit in the boinloins. The boinloins. Boinloins. Someone got hit in them.” – Ice King, “Hitman”
“This is an instant bath serum. It makes you sweat cleaning agents.” “I don’t bathe. I want that.” – Young Princess Bubblegum and Finn, “Too Young”
“Yes, of course. Just a harmless prank. For laughs. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Twelve years dungeon, all of you, dungeon. Seven years, no trial.” – Lemongrab, “Too Young”
“Only the heat from a whopping love-hug can catalyze the re-aging process.” – Young Princess Bubblegum, “Too Young”
“This is going to be easy as… hmm… easy as childbirth!” – Finn, “The Monster”
“I’m sorry I ate all your crops, even though you’re all still really fat and I probably helped you lose some weight.” – Lumpy Space Princess, “The Monster”
“I take artful black and white photographs of my penguins’ body parts. Photography is art.” – Ice King, “Still”
“Does this dance please you, astral beast?” – Finn, “Still”
“You’ve tried to kill us like four times!” “I only tried to kill you because you’re Princess blockin’ me all the time.” – Jake and Ice King, “Still”
“Eating a part of me will bring us closer together. I’ll be inside you!” “Friends don’t eat each other. That’s not how friends work!” – Ice King and Finn, “Still”
“If I were the winner, I would turn my face so our lips wouldn’t touch. And I would push princess away. Turn and push. Turn and push.” – Abracadaniel, “Wizard Battle”
“Get ready for the ultimate prize/Watch her lips pout before your eyes. Never in your life would you dream of this/Never in your freaking life.” – Peppermint Butler, “Wizard Battle”
“All of you will kiss the princess or die in battle.” – Grand Master Wizard, “Wizard Battle”
“My face hurts a little.” “Don’t worry about that. You look totally cool right now.” “Thanks, dude! Here, you try ‘em.” “Okay, am I cool now?” “So fly.” “How about me? Put me on the grid. Scale of one to ten. One is totally gross and ten is like ‘daaang, Ice King, you look crazy see-iick.’” – Finn, Jake, and the Ice King, “Wizard Battle”
“Ice Queen, why’re you always predatoring on dudes?” – Fiona, “Fiona and Cake”
“It was a date! There was singing and junk!” – Fiona, “Fiona and Cake”
“That guy must do crazy squats.” – Jake, “What Was Missing”
“It’s the door of the Door Lords. We used to lock them up, but they kept breaking out. ‘Cause they’re Door Lords.” – Princess Bubblegum, “What Was Missing”
“You’ve all forgotten about the music! I quit the band! (I’m just pretending!)” – Jake, “What Was Missing”
“I’m gonna sass those boys up nasty.” – Tree Trunks, “Apple Thief”
“All ne’er-do-wells call diamonds apples. Like calling money bread, or callin’ rock-knockers butterslaps.” – Wormo, “Apple Thief”
“No, Jake. When bad things happen I know you want to believe they are a joke. But sometimes, life is scary and dark. That is why we must find the light.” – BMO dropping wisdom, “The Creeps”
“Oh gross. My lumping body’s all hollow now. I got to put something in it. So where’s the food? What kind of castle is this? It’s like a poor people’s castle. With no lumping waffles for my dump truck.” – Lumpy Space Princess, “The Creeps”
“That one’s going in the vault. Aaaand it’s gone.” – Finn, “The Creeps”
“Jake, I think this guy has serious dance fever.” – Finn, “From Bad to Worse”
“Ah nah, I am not getting eaten by zombies tonight.” – Lumpy Space Princess, “From Bad to Worse”
“Oh, I’m coming with you, if only to be disruptive and obnoxious.” – Jake, “Beautopia”
“Whatever, man, this is a crazy cruise and Susan is our crazy captain. And I’m a crazy clamshell!” – Jake, “Beautopia”
“Balzac’s!” – Finn, “Beautopia”
“Come on, Finn, let’s go! I grabbed like one hundred soft pretzels.” – Jake, “Beautopia”
“Paging Dr. Ice Cream. Ice cream for my mooooouuuuf!” – Finn, “No One Can Hear You”
“Ah, dude, I broke my stems!” – Finn, “No One Can Hear You”
“Sure seems like a good time to come out if y’all are just hiding and you don’t, you know, want to see me pop my top! I hope nobody’s gonna jump out of the bushes and peeps my bod.” – Finn, “No One Can Hear You”
“A deer scronked your head and you lost your mind, man. You imprisoned the Candy People for your own sick birthday fantasy.” – Finn, “No One Can Hear You”
“The deer wanted our sugar, but I didn’t give him any. If you know what I mean.” –Princess Bubblegum, implying that she did not, in fact, make out with a deer, “No One Can Hear You”
“I found this note stabbed to my door…man.” – Wildberry Princess, “Jake vs. Me-Mow”
“Princess, we saw your crown next to a pile of dirty meat, then we slipped on the meat and I thought I tasted your juice but it was just blood from the meat.” – Wildberry Guard, “Jake vs. Me-Mow”
“Finn, when I die my individual Earth consciousness is gonna go all over everywhere while Glob tallies my deeds. I’m gonna be all around you. In your nose, in your dreams, in your socks. I’ll be a part of your Earth-mind. It’s gonna be great!” – Jake, “The New Frontier”
“Dude. Stop. Saying. All this. Crazy. Nonsense. It’s making me messed up. I’m 13. You’re messin’ me up.” – Finn, “The New Frontier.”
“There’s not enough boom-boom stick-hole sticks in the stick hole!” – Banana Man, “The New Frontier”
“I waited for him to leave, but he played in those boogers for hours.” – Finn, “Holly Jolly Secrets”
“Hey, BMO, can you play this?” “Yes. It goes in my butt.” – Finn and BMO, “Holly Jolly Secrets”
“My alarm says it is time for Finn’s bath. Finn, get naked.” – BMO, “Holly Jolly Secrets”
“And so it was that once every year, when the weather got chilly, that Finn, Jake, the Ice King, BMO, Princess Bubblegum, Marceline the Vampire Queen, Cinnamon Bun, Peppermint Butler, Phil, a candy cane man, one of the Gumdrop Girls, Lady Rainacorn, Lumpy Space Princess, that guy, the other guy, a pig, Tree Trunks, a two headed duck, the old crazy Tart Toter, the punch bowl, a booger, and Gunther would get together while wearing really big sweaters and watch videos on the floor next to a fire to celebrate the day when Finn and Jake had a fleeting moment of empathy for the biggest weirdo in Ooo. It was a miracle. Good night.” – Shelby, “Holly Jolly Secrets”
“I know this isn’t a mirror. What the? You’re doing it wrong, even!” – Finn, “Marceline’s Closet”
“My brooooom!” – Marceline, and myself whenever I need to sweep something, “Marceline’s Closet”
“I will avenge thee, slightly soiled book!” – Finn, “Paper Pete”
“I’m not a king, I was democratically elected.” “Ha ha, that’s adorable.” – Mildwin and Finn “Paper Pete”
“Did you finish your Rainacorn book?” “Ugh. I was reading the same paragraph over and over for like eleven minutes.” – Finn and Jake, “Paper Pete”
“You’re gross, man.” – Finn, “Another Way”
“You can’t cross this river, it’s impossible. Look, the current is so fast it’ll turn your butt inside out for real, doofus. And the water is acidic, it’ll krump your boat in half, it’s like orange juice, it’s gross. There’s a bridge but it’s a trap. Plus, the water is jammin’ with electric eels! Wow, so weird.” – Sentient Shrubbery, “Another Way”
“No, I hurt a small hairy man’s wife. I just want to go home.” – Finn, “Another Way”
“Your neighborhood is… uh… very peaceful.” “It’s the cradle of my despair!” – Finn and Ghost Princess, “Ghost Princess”
“Well get ready because this biz is about to get ridonk!” – Finn, “Ghost Princess”
“Sparkles on the house? Let’s squish ‘em!” – Finn, “Dad’s Dungeon”
“Oh, snap. Well pop that cartridge in the slot, playa.” – Jake, “Dad’s Dungeon”
“Cheer up, man, we’re only telling you you’re gross because we’re your bros.” – Finn, “Dad’s Dungeon”
“I’m gonna hang here with these fruit babes. They’ll be my best buds now.” – Finn, “Dad’s Dungeon”
“If anyone tries to hurt Finn, I will kill them.” – BMO, “Incendium”
“She’s an unstoppable force of destruction. Nothing a psycho like you can’t handle.” – Fire King, “Incendium”
“What was that?” “The princess of the Fire Kingdom?” “Dude… I think I have a crush.” – Finn and Jake, “Incendium”